Cats are not aloof, it is just that you’re not paying attention

There is an element of common sense in the conclusions of this study by researchers at Oregon State University. As I understand it, if a cat owner is paying attention to their cat i.e. is in an “attentional state” then their cat will not be aloof or less likely to be aloof. The word ‘aloof’ is often used in connection with domestic cats and I have always thought it unfair and misleading or plain wrong.

Aloof cat?
Aloof cat?
Two useful tags. Click either to see the articles:- Toxic to cats | Dangers to cats

It seems that the idea that domestic cats are aloof is at least partly due to the fact that people think they are aloof and therefore do not pay attention to them. It’s a self fulfilling prophecy as I see it. But that’s my interpretation.

The researchers do not define what “attentional state” means. If it means that you are interacting with your cat then of course he or she is bound to not be aloof because they will normally interact back.

I suspect that attentional state means that the person presents a body language to their cat which indicates that they are attentive which their cat picks up. An attentional state influences the social behaviour of domestic cats. Cats, both cats in shelters and domestic cats in homes, “spent significantly more time in proximity and contact to the human during the attentive phase”.

The researchers say that cats are “sensitive to many human cues, including pointing gestures, human emotions, human mood and human vocalisations”. Cats respond to “happy emotional cues”.

There is also the fact that cats are individuals so some are aloof or less friendly than others. The reasons are probably the same reasons (at a fundamental level) as to why humans vary in character, namely, genetics, early experiences (with humans) and learning during adolescence.

The researchers say that it is worth making the first move even if the cat seems detached and aloof. The conclusion is that cat owners should “try to interact with your cat and see what happens”.

Comment: I’m not completely sure what this research brings to the table. It is probably saying that if people have a perception that the domestic cat is aloof then they will reinforce that perception by failing to interact i.e. failing to adopt an attentive state. Some people should change their mindset about domestic cats and present themselves as attentive.

If you are interested you can read the entire paper:

Cat are not aloof if we pay attention

4 thoughts on “Cats are not aloof, it is just that you’re not paying attention”

  1. I’ve always felt a bond with cats, but never really interacted with cats on a personal level until I rescued Spunky. He was so active that I had to be just to keep up with him.

    I think cats are aloof in a manner. They form relationships at their choosing, and don’t require or submit to training.

    These days I have regular conversations with my cats. I when hold the dog gate for them, rather than making them jump out pass through. We have dog gates at each interior doorway so the cats can pass through, but the dogs can’t.

    I move stuff off the TV table so Lucy can jump and sit beside me. And so on.

    I suggest that some dog owners need to interact with their pups. I think dogs need more attention from humans than cats do and then people wonder why their dog misbehaves or is aggressive.


  2. Interesting article Michael. Maybe this is why some of us just inherently “know” that we are “cat people.” I have felt an affinity to cats ever since I can remember. I am drawn to them. It seems that with every cat I have ever met, I have felt an almost electrical connection, that goes beyond any definition of words. Cats do not come across as “aloof” in my mind, they are simply acting as felines. Cats possess a mystical quality that I think people who are not “cat people” misinterpret. πŸ’œπŸ’œπŸ’œπŸΎ

  3. WE know that most people don’t understand cats, and even those of us who do well with cats aren’t entirely knowledgeable as to why. I think we just start out on a level playing field, giving cats equal time and consideration for their needs, and it blossoms from there. People need to remember that they are the least domesticated of domesticated animals and that they live in our world, apart from their natural one where they feel comfortable, and we’re used to getting our way so there is that; also some people treat them like dogs. They aren’t. All they really want is our friendship but we have rigid demands on them, but they have needs too. Cats appreciate a social contract of reciprocity, but people often won’t sign off on that. We’re supposedly smarter yet we don’t get that. Cats are easy when we understand them. I’ve often marveled at how they will do what I want without my asking, after I do what they want: treat them right. There are some good people out there who’ve written good books, like “The Way Of Cats” by Pamela Merritt. Also a study of cat’s inherent social structure was done by Alger and Alger in ’99 that blew my mind. Usually I get bored reading cat books because they’re aimed at beginners, but the scientific paper supporting “Cat Culture” is engrossing if you like serious study. People who don’t get cats call them aloof, so all they need to do is a little reading with an open mind and let them teach us as well. I think that’s what is meant by “attention”.

    • Great comment Albert Schepis. I am interested in reading about cats also. I am going to look up your references. 🐾


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